SPIRITUAL SPACESHIP 2018
Bangkok Art Biennale ,BACC Thailand (2018)
Spiritual Spaceship 2018
A scene from the past, a wooden house by the Chao Chet Canal in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, a nostalgic image of Amah (Grandma) during the Moon Festival (Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival) made me question the communication between Earthlings and celestial beings. Several explanations of the mysteriously vast universe were offered, yet the belief still journeyed across the sea, anchored, then settled on the land where hope remains.
On the other side of the land, modern advancement has developed a propulsion mechanism capable of conquering astronomical objects, even leading to a footprint left on the moon. Yet, this development could not diminish the value of custom. The inspiration and the hope received through blessings from the sky work in parallel with tangible mechanical progress.
Our experiences link and shape the past in order to pave a new path to deliver us to the present. Time might compel us to glance in a flash or to forget the existence of that which we see. From that point on, vases, drawers, and antique wooden cabinets, all take me back to the past. The recovering of the past leads to the integration of science with the experience of the unknown which results in the assemblage of this vehicle capable of travelling back to the self beyond the time connection point.
Conscious that the present is the past of the future, the present of the past then means the root of self. Even when technology takes us a million light-year further, the border of the universe remains beyond reach. This vehicle propels back toward the opposite direction, with the belief as its fuel, taking us back to where hope still lingers.
Article by Jirat Prasertsup
The ark of Torlarp Larpjaroensook
From his grandmother’s spiritual spaceship to a memory-filled Noah’s ark
The term “collage art” is frequently used to designate two-dimensional works of art, often a montage of photographs, paintings or drawings. For such a reason, Torlarp Larpjaroensook finds it an ill-adapted label when it comes to discussing his practice. However, if you mention to him the phrase “collage sculpture”, he will be more than pleased to talk you through his works, which involve the assemblage of miscellaneous objects and materials into three- dimensional structures.
Torlarp’s eschewing of traditional definitions and ways of understanding is precisely what makes his works stand out as memorable. While the adoption of ready-made and found objects to create new meanings isn’t a novelty in the art world, his usage of items familiar to a Thai audience weaves unique narratives into his works that go beyond the mere discussion of aesthetic formalism as many view it.
This is particularly striking in his latest work, Insignificant Meaningful, exhibited for the first time last year at Esplanade Concourse in Singapore. The installation, composed of everyday items - belonging both to contemporary and bygone epochs - such as Thai pinto lunchboxes, vases, incense holders, goldenware, thermal bottles, lamps, old closets and cupboards, occupies the entire exhibition space, sprawling over 10 meters and reaching its ceiling.
While the title of the work consists of an oxymoron, the artist diffuses its signification through a shape that can be regarded as an abstract sculpture, a substitute for a spaceship or some curious and futuristic live being, lending itself to ceaseless contemplation.
With three wooden paddles assembled into a helix-like propeller and a teakwood closet and shelves installed as a passenger cabin, the sculpture is centered around a golden tank that doubles as a stand for the hundreds of electric cables departing from it. Tied to the cables’ other extremity are vases and ceramics parts, pieced together to look like an armada of floating rockets. If one decides to view the work as a live creature, then it will appear as though the artist intended to construct a rounded head shape, a long neck, four legs and a protractible tail that could be lengthened without end (or at the very least, as far as the exhibition space permits it).
Yet, no matter how one chooses to look at this work or the contradictions contained in its title, the artist’s message takes precedence over individual interpretations. For Torlap’s practice isn’t only about assembling objects to generate new forms and significations, but it is embedded in a reflection on these functional items’ original shapes, motifs and statuses, as well as in the collective memories or experiences derived from handling them in our everyday life. For example, we have all once twisted off the cap of a thermal flask or poured water into a ceramic ware. The shelves too, look familiar - like those you would use to showcase your certificates, photographs, travel souvenirs or personal memorabilia - while the old, wooden closet resembles one that is found in every family home.
As we delve deeper into the meaning of Torlarp’s latest work, it appears crucial to examine the artist’s previous production in order to highlight the continuity in his practice, both in terms of form and inspiration.
This previous work of his, Spiritual Spaceship, was exhibited in the 2018 Bangkok Art Biennale. Built from the same ready-made objects as Insignificant Meaningful, its structure resembles that of a spacecraft - albeit a soulful one, inspired by Torlarp’s childhood memories growing up at his grandmother’s house in Ayutthaya and learning of the NASA’s moon missions.
The artist evoked this time period by piecing together housewares that he was familiar with as a child, from flower vases to incense holders used for ritual ceremonies (the latter object constituting a “medium” in lunar celebrations). While the NASA’s rockets were designed to explore the outer space, Torlarp’s spaceship allows us to journey back to what is closest to him, echoes from his past and ancient beliefs related to the moon.
As such, Insignificant Meaningful could be viewed as the broader, fully-grown version of the artist’s Spiritual Spaceship. This isn’t due only to its larger scale or the wider variety of objects it is composed of, as the artist has also extended the scope of his probe to look at the broader theme of human migrations. Responding to a commission to create an installation to be displayed at the Esplanade Concourse in Singapore, he examined the integration process of the island-state’s diverse communities. While engaging in research work, Torlarp found that the everyday objects of Chinese, Malay, Indian or Peranakan communities all possess unique facets and elements but also share similarities. Moreover, several items also reminded him of his childhood in Ayutthaya.
“My grandmother told me that she had emigrated from China about a hundred years ago. The boat sailed past what was then Melayu and stopped in Penang then, later on, she settled down in Ayutthaya. Her journey was similar to that of other Chinese immigrants at that time, who all brought with them everyday belongings - items that reminded them of their roots. This isn’t unique to Chinese communities though. Indians who immigrated into this region or Malay people who married into Chinese families and formed the Peranakan culture, as well as other ethnic groups, all possess such objects that are both markers of their origins as well as their contemporary life. My work, Insignificant Meaningful, is symbolic of this process: the coming- together of diverse individuals or groups, with the past being tied into the present.”
Amongst the symbolism in Torlarp’s work, one notes how small objects are built into slightly larger ones, which are themselves assembled with larger items (from a teacup to a plate, a vase, a rice-cooker, a shelf and finally, a closet) and no article is placed by its own. The dangling electric cords further tie all the pieces together while the metallic structure forms a “skeleton” connecting different organs. Such composition also reflects the broader social configuration, with the smaller objects being akin to individual lives which, once amalgamated, form a community, a village, a province, region and finally a state. Thus, this installation does not only explore the relationship between objects and the passing of time (the spaceship, while comprising items destined to make us reminisce about the past, appears to be darting towards the future) or the meaning we attribute to objects and what causes certain items to fall into oblivion (through the artist’s usage of old articles, displayed in futuristic displays). Insignificant Meaningful also addresses relationships between people and the social dynamics they co- create.
Whereas Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal (Fountain, 1917) or displayed a bicycle wheel on a pedestal (Bicycle Wheel, 1913) to challenge the art-world’s definitions, values and hierarchies in the early 20th century, Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) assembled everyday objects and metallic parts into machinery-like sculptures, deriding modern societies’ increasing reliance on and exaltation of technology. More recently, Subodh Gupta used thousands of stainless kitchenware pieces, common in Indian households, to build a towering 10-meter sculpture resembling an exploding cloud (Line of Control, 2008) to denounce the consequences of warfare.
Torlarp Larpjaroensook, meanwhile, has spent over a decade collecting items related to everyday lifestyles in Thailand and Southeast Asia (which he believes say more about our identities and origins than many artifacts exhibited in national museums) and combining them into shapes that trigger various interpretations. Over the years, the artist has cultivated such recurrences in his multifarious practice and built what can be regarded both as an instrument for recording and reservoir of our collective memories. In other words: a museum of mundane history.
Insignificant Meaningful, Torlarp’s largest work to date, may be viewed as a machine, a vehicle or a strange creature - simultaneously revealing and withholding the elements it is made up of. Personally, I prefer to liken it to Noah’s Ark in the Christian Genesis.
While technologies encourage us to collect and store new memories, those of individuals who came before us slowly fade away. As Noah’s Ark was built to spare the lives of the world’s animal species from an imminent deluge, Torlarp’s very own vessel is filled with memories from the past and sails through present waters towards the future.
Insignificant Meaningful was exhibited for the first time at the Esplanade - Theaters on the Bay, in Singapore, from 19 April to 14 July 2019. It is currently on display at the Taiwan Contemporary Culture Lab (C-Lab) in Taiwan through 8 December 2019.